Yoga is finding the firm foundations of reality

 “We are not required simply to adjust our vision, but to turn it inside out as well as outside in, a complete reversal. It means that the ultimate truth is inconceivable in normal consciousness... A life must be built on a foundation of reality that is firm...Learning to live with uncertainty is the great art of living...Only a life built on spiritual values (dharma) is based firmly in truth and will stand up to the shocks of life... All mankind lives unwittingly within the truth of yoga. Yoga is one. No one escapes the mechanism of “as you sow, so shall you reap.” Yet we deny the totality of our vision. We find ourselves in the position of having to portion it up, to compartmentalize it, to cherry-pick what suits us and reject what does not. Why? It is because we all misapprehend reality. Not just partially, but totally... Ignorance is, in its essence, taking the day-to-day self we know, for the immortal self, the true Self or Soul... Yoga’s answer is to say, “Discover the unknown, and you will encounter your own immortality.” —Yogācārya B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, 2005.

My teacher’s wife, Rita, tells a story of practicing a forward bend in front of where her Guruji, BKS Iyengar, was practicing. He corrected her practice, teaching her to use a slanting plank so that the posture did not exacerbate the scoliosis of her spine but helped her work with her condition.  Manouso teaches Jānu Śīrsāsana with the Setu Bandha Sarvāngāsana bench (shown here modified with all the blocks, those are not for the start). There are more than two sides to a position.  The perspectives (and possibilities) are infinite when seeing and acting from within.

Gratitude for the gift of the search

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 “Yoga examines the totality of being, every layer of existence from body inward, sorting, testing, observing, experimenting, dissecting, and classifying until a full blueprint of the human being is built up. The ancients yogis and philosopher saints systematically did this until they found the light they were looking for, the eternal, unchanging Self, the part of us that answers once and for all the original, inevitable question, “Who am I?” Their gift to us lies in the knowledge and techniques and maps of their search that they bequeathed to us, so that we too can each answer our own question, since it is certain no one else can answer it for us.” Yogācārya B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, 2005, p. 190.

The unknown is unlimited

  “Of this there can be no question — creative work requires a loyalty as complete as the loyalty of water to the force of gravity. ..The working, concentrating artist is an adult who refuses interruption from himself, who remains absorbed and energized in and by the work — who is thus responsible to the work…” Mary Oliver

 The intention was to take it easy today, not to do too much, but once it started “I” am not in charge. What “I” might have wanted or intended is left somewhere at the door with the shoes. The only thing left to do is to try to relax on the trip that is the practice: relaxing the head, the face, the neck, the jaw, the eyes, the shoulders—surrendering the misperception of having control.   Practice eventually arrived at working on the Vśrchīkāsana that my teacher taught me when I saw him last. A little improvement here from the latest efforts but still not as deep as with his assistance, even though my body was working “cold” before class. Sometimes It’s better cold, sometimes it’s the last backbend (or two) that’s practiced. The difficulty with  it means more questioning, more searching, more practice—realizing more understanding. Always there is further to see: the unknown keeps growing and expanding, like the horizon. It’s always distant, vast space. extending the  exploration extends the bliss.

The intention was to take it easy today, not to do too much, but once it started “I” am not in charge. What “I” might have wanted or intended is left somewhere at the door with the shoes. The only thing left to do is to try to relax on the trip that is the practice: relaxing the head, the face, the neck, the jaw, the eyes, the shoulders—surrendering the misperception of having control.

Practice eventually arrived at working on the Vśrchīkāsana that my teacher taught me when I saw him last. A little improvement here from the latest efforts but still not as deep as with his assistance, even though my body was working “cold” before class. Sometimes It’s better cold, sometimes it’s the last backbend (or two) that’s practiced. The difficulty with  it means more questioning, more searching, more practice—realizing more understanding. Always there is further to see: the unknown keeps growing and expanding, like the horizon. It’s always distant, vast space. extending the  exploration extends the bliss.

Studying the art of personal responsibility

 “I’m not trying to change your behavior.

You have to look at how you act from within yourself...

Some of you are spending a lot of energy trying to fit in...

If we believe in God, are we just saying he’s then responsible for everything?

Who understands God’s will? Everybody? Where do you draw your lines? ...

How much do you accept the dogma of those who came before you? “. Manouso Manos, excerpts from philosophy talk, March 5, 2018 🕉

“forebears, models, spirits whose influence and teachings i am now inseparable from, and forever grateful for.  I go nowhere, I arrive nowhere, without them. With them I live my life, with them I enter the event, I mold the meditation, I keep if I can some essence of the hour, even as it slips away.  And I do not accomplish this alert and loving confrontation by myself and alone, but through terrifying and continual effort, and with this innumerable, fortifying company, bright as stars in the heaven of my mind. “. Mary Oliver

Gālavāsana is dedicated to the sage, Gālava, student of Viśvāmitra. Light on Yoga tells the story of this sage Viśvāmitra’s transformation: originally a king, of the warrior caste, first he tried to buy, then steal, the Cow of Plenty from its keeper, Vasistha, the sage. He did not succeed in overpowering the sage. Impressed by the strength of the sage who could not be forced, the king devoted himself to austerities and seeking wisdom, becoming a seer eventually, striving until eventually his teacher, Vasistha, recognized him as a skilled sage. So these poses, (Gālavāsana, Viśvāmitrāsana, Vasisthāsana) are about a lineage of yogis spanning three generations.

Today I practiced them together. The outer hips are exercised in addition to the arms and abdomen in all these poses. Gālavāsana is a pose with four sides and four crosses. Each crossing of the Pādma legs must be turned and rested on each upper arm. It takes over three minutes to do all four sides from Śīrsāsana II (for me). Some of that time is pausing in Ūrdhva Padmāsana until the breath can slow.  The twisting arm balances tire my body faster, my left side is weaker (or is that it’s the second side?).   

 “While practicing the āsanas, one has to explore and investigate the veiled, concealed or hidden weaknesses of the body, mind and intelligence. This requires action and reflection along with further study so that disparities are constructively removed to experience parity in body, mind, intelligence and consciousness.”

—BKS Iyengar, Core of the Yoga Sūtras, 2012.

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Expanding the vision of self

 “the wonderful things that may happen if you break the ropes that are holding you...” Mary Oliver

 

If we find a true teacher, they can show us the way to freedom from the bondage we create for ourselves. The path of progress in yoga requires discipline and sincerity.

When I was younger, my teacher made it clear when I wasn’t ready for the advanced postures. I remember he taught this pose in the advanced class, almost 16 years ago. He said, basically, “roll the front thigh out. the front pelvic head should press the foot, the back upper thigh rolls out. If you can’t do that, you aren’t ready for more.” We weren’t allowed to bend the back leg. He kept a firm grip on the class. Now I recognize the love in that forbidding tone.

In practice, in life, the student has the choice to decide to listen to a teacher’s guidance. Are the teachings trustworthy? What will happen if we learn to follow their lead?  The wise teacher shows the student how to navigate beyond the ego and perform their real work.  The student has to mature enough to work on the lessons given, to be ready for the next steps. I have, eventually, let the practice unfold from the foundations, as I’ve been taught, and it’s astonishing what happens.

Last fall, shortly after a teaching-related strain, there was a workshop with my teacher. Not yet healed, i felt a little scared about not knowing what was safe to do in my practice, and told him that. He stared in my eyes directly saying emphatically, “YOU can do EVERYTHING.” Then he repeated it.

It isn’t that everything is coming easily. It takes intelligent preparation. It isn’t that there’s never imbalances or pains or stressors—those happen. Iyengar Yoga practice really does teach how to take care of oneself, giving the tools address the issues, a methodology for taking the right steps forward and learning under all the changing conditions. Once we realize that, we are free.

In the wholeheartedness of concentration,” the poet Jane Hirshfield wrote in her inquiry into the effortless effort of creativity, “world and self begin to cohere. With that state comes an enlarging: of what may be known, what may be felt, what may be done.”

Yoga for Children

This is the setting for the children’s yoga class for the outdoor program, Strong Roots. My kids are in this program on Thursday mornings, so when it is above at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit, I try to do my āsana practice there (rather than drive back to the city). So Thursday, it was a bit warmer and a day for a practice of all the standing poses in Light on Yoga, before teaching the children’s yoga class, which was in the early afternoon.

It is such a peaceful place for learning yoga with the sky and water all around to remind us of vastness. There was so much enthusiastic participation and delight in moving and practicing both familiar and new postures and challenges. We practiced some standing poses, seated poses and supine poses. We learn simpler poses at first and repeat them with quick movements, since children are naturally agile and enjoy and are captivated by the movement.

We will add more poses every week. We practiced chanting Āum and learned the names of many poses in Sanskrit, which children learn quickly. The lively class enjoyed repeating all the names of the poses after each time I said them. At first I taught them to do that. Later it sounded a bit like the class was gleefully teasing me by repeating each pose,

so we were joyfully learning!  I told the myth story about Patanjali, the sage who is said to have authored the Yoga Sutras about 2500 years ago, born to a yogini named Gaunika. We also practiced the Patañjali chant that is part of acknowledging the long tradition and lineage of yoga teachings.

I was very fortunate to observe the children’s classes at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute when I was in Pune, India for two months. I use those experiences and the yoga books for children, Yoga Shastra, by the Iyengars, as a guide for teaching children’s yoga classes. Every group is different so some need more of the preparatory movements to help with coordination and attention before they are ready for much of the āsana, but this class is very quick and eager to learn the postures which is delightful.

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Reporting from within

 “Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it. “ —Mary Oliver

 

Eka Pāda Rājakapotāsana II - “one legged king pigeon pose, variation 2”

As a teacher, I aim to be a trustworthy reporter...to tell the truth of the action that I am performing. There are invisible directors behind the cascading, ripple of adjustments. While the buttock may pull, the back extend, and the hip grip and turn are all more visible to the eye—often the key that twists the secret locks may be really the act of presence in the humble heel.  And so we feel how no point is truly disconnected or unworthy. When one part does its honest work, guided by the inner intelligence, there can be a trust that others will be touched, impacted, inspired by a willingness to be present, drawn into the spell of alignment.

— Jennifer Beaumont